I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. –Frank Herbert, Dune, Litany Against Fear
The Litany Against Fear was one of my high priest’s favorite quotes. Fear–of the unknown, of being hurt, of dying, of anything–is often at the root of what causes us pain, real or imagined. It makes us act in ways that perhaps we would not otherwise out of a sense of self preservation, believing we must inflict harm and place imaginary boundaries instead of inflicting kindness and placing real compassion in people’s lives.
Then there are the other things. The real things that are scary.
I just had gastric bypass surgery. I may have written about it earlier, I can’t remember. Long story short: I don’t feel the need to justify my decision to anyone, but for the curious, I did it for my health, and I did it for the sake of my future children.
It is easy to get out of balance. Easy to say, “Just get through today and I will worry about taking care of myself tomorrow.” Easy to say, “It’s just a few pounds, plus I believe in body positivity, and the research doesn’t have great correlations between body fat and illness anyway (which is true).” Easy to say, “I’m young, therefore I am healthy.”
Then the day passes and a new day dawns with the same stresses. The few pounds turn into a few hundred pounds (literally), and you wonder how it ever happened because you don’t see yourself any differently in the mirror. Even as a nurse, it’s easy to forget that youth passes into maturity…and youth does not equate to health.
And I will say what I have often said: Nursing destroys people. The long hours, the stress, the abuse from other healthcare practitioners and administrations, the lack of time to pee, the 5 minute lunches to shove as much food down your throat as you can to try to stave off a blood sugar crash (regardless of whether you have diabetes) before the end of your shift, the fast food dinners on the way home because you didn’t even get those 5 minutes, the constant feelings of inadequacy and second guessing every step you took when you make a med error or, worse, your patient codes even though you know, you KNOW, sometimes a heart just gives out…
And so I had to make a choice. One of the scariest choices I have ever made in my life. A choice to reclaim my life. My body. My health. My youth.
My fears were not irrational. Surgery is frightening, doubly so when you are choosing surgery vs. needing it to preserve your life in the immediate moment. And I did have some complications after surgery that sent me back to the ER twice after I was discharged–and as of yesterday it has only been two weeks since the procedure. Thankfully I am stable now and dropping weight like it’s hot. My pain is minimal, I feel physically better than I did a month ago, and I have high hopes.
But I still fear.
I fear the long term damage being obese most of my life that may have occurred. I fear that I will regain the weight. I fear that I still won’t be healthy enough to bear children. I fear that there is more going on inside of me than I am aware of. I fear a shortened life.
And now I get it when my mom and my mother in law tell me they don’t want to see a doctor. They don’t want to know what’s wrong–because something ELSE might be wrong, something they didn’t even expect, and who wants to deal with THAT? I always thought it’s better to face the enemy you know than be blindsided by the one you refused to see…but now I can understand the peace that comes with the not knowing, and the desire to keep it that way. I am sick unto death of doctors and hospitals at this point, and don’t want anything more to do with them outside of my profession for as long as I can manage it.
And there are people who are chronically obese, who eat terrible diets, who have never been physically fit (whatever that means)…that have no diagnoses. No hypertension, no high cholesterol, no diabetes, no liver disease.
But even rational fears can hold us back. Yes, I have legitimate concerns about my health, but it does not change the reality of my life. I cannot let my worries prevent me from living my life to the fullest. From trying to realize my dreams. From trying to start a family. From experiencing as much as this beautiful world has to offer because I must to the Summerland to try, try again. To live in fear is to succumb to the fear.
I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in living life passionately, knowing that not every moment will be full of new excitements. I believe a life lived in love in a worthwhile life. And as I constantly endeavour to exist in love, I can only conclude that my life has been worthwhile, and that every moment from thence forward is as beautiful as those that have gone past, regardless of what the future holds.
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. –Frank Herbet, Dune, Litany Against Fear